Losing games that were surely for the taking is a rarity for this rendition of the Phoenix Suns, even when factoring in the multitude of injuries they trek forward with. Nonetheless, a 113-110 loss to the Washington Wizards leaves some to be desired, not unlike what the scoreboard suggests. Execution in the “clutch” was lacking, on both ends of the floor, and they’d come up just short.
1.) Shamet’s Impressive Shooting
Landry Shamet has been a high-variance guy within the Suns rotation since the Suns acquired him ahead of last season.
Last night was the template for exactly what they desire to see from him in a sustainable manner. No, not necessarily a career-best 31-point average (though it’d obviously be well-welcomed). Rather, the process and the method of his approach.
Shamet has the potential, as shown last night, to be a moving target for the Suns offensively. He moves a havoc-causing pace with fleet-footed quickness maneuvering off of screens, dribble-handoffs, and picks the same.
In either of those scenarios, he has the ability and is a threat to rise with suddenness. The ability to blend shooting off both movement as well as off screens, in addition to being able to initiate in pick-and-roll or off dribble-handoffs is a unique skill set that is scarce for his player type across the league.
He couples a quick trigger with a quick first step as well, enabling him the ability to punish long closeouts as defenses run him off the three-point line. To which, he then has surprising athleticism and audacity in attacking the cup too.
We saw it all in play last night, as he flew off of an array of staggered away screens, handoffs, as well as pin-downs, on top of general off-ball movement independent of screens (lifting and sinking), or even remaining stashed one pass away and ready to shoot.
He was a dead-eye, and the impact that a movement shooter can have on an offense and an opponent is immense. That archetype in movement shooting is a premium in the league, and every team wishes they had a handful of those.
The issue with Shamet is consistency though. He has these many dynamics about him, in tandem with being able to defend at an average level and be trusted to compete.
If he could string what that latter stanza highlights with some consistency on offense, he’d be a staple in the rotation and exist as an inherent threat off of his dynamic.
Nonetheless, a career-best in points (31) and makes from deep (9) doesn’t happen by accident. Especially in a game that demanded it from him as others struggled, particularly in the second half.
Kudos to Shamet for delivering when the team sorely needed it for a chance in the end.
2.) Pick-and-Roll Play
The Suns had their struggles in this one running pick-and-roll, which becomes a bit more of their base when operating sans Devin Booker.
Before even speaking to the scheme, the Washington Wizards put forth great activity and a detailed intensity in defending against those scenarios.
That effort made the scheme an “in addition to” their attack, which is how it should be aligned.
That being said, they were very solid with their “ice” and “weak” coverage against Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton.
Operating with that as their base, they were able to stifle one of the best tandems in the league, flattening out the Suns offensive attack some in the process.
The Suns would adjust to the Wizards pressure from beyond by relocating the point of their screens, allowing Bridges/Lee/Shamet to initiate, and Paul to work the elbows out of their Horns action, with Ayton.
These 2 have now worked almost exclusively from the Elbow in PnR the last 4ish minutes of play— Stephen ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) December 21, 2022
Chipped away & into this deficit doing so https://t.co/rX1XyjZ16n
Doing so, from the middle of the floor, is *almost* scheme-proof. It enabled the Suns more clean looks out of this scenario and allowed them to dictate while re-establishing themselves around the seven-minute mark of the third quarter.
Paul (11) and Ayton (12) would account for 23 of the team's 30 points in the third frame, with a good majority coming out of this scenario.
This brought them within two headed into the fourth, after being down five at the half, and eventually down 17 in the third.
They’d then continue to invert their offense with Paul and Ayton (or eventually Biyombo) from the elbows, then getting into their many counters that flow into action with handoffs, slips, and double screens.
3.) A ton of Ayton
Deandre Ayton had himself a game last night, on a season-high usage of 35.53.
That number marks his third highest as a professional, playoffs included.
He was met with consistent activity between Gafford and Gibson but put on a very solid showing (30 points and 13 rebounds).
Catching (!!!) and finishing on the roll, short-roll decisiveness, going quick in isolation, the array of soft-touch finishing, the hook, and even turnarounds were on full display.
He was a pressure point and consistent advantage for the Suns, and did so in a very composed manner of operating.
He showed great patience on his touches, and they came in a consistent manner that directly kept him involved - past just Chris Paul finding ways to feed him - which was again very reassuring.
4.) Frequent Fouling
You can say there’s been a questionable whistle in many Suns games, and you may be right though that is up for debate. What isn’t is the number of games where they have above the league average.
The average is 20.4 fouls per game. The Suns presently sit at the 21st-worst foul rate, of 21.2 per game.
Even more, they're 29th in free throw rate. They allow 23.7, league average is 20.8.
In games where they’ve fouled north of 20 times, they’re 8-10. That’s 18 of their 32 games where they’ve had astronomical foul rates.
In games where they finish with 21 or fewer fouls, they’re a dominant 12-3.
It’s obviously not the end all, however, when they defend in a solid manner, they are as elite as it gets in the league.
A lot of their fouls come from slightly late positioning or a lack of discipline. Both of which are things firmly in their control.
Their foul totals are a number to watch for moving forward, as their successes align with how low (or high) these numbers are at the final buzzer.
For reference, last season they finished 19th at 19.9 fouls per game, and in 2020-21, they were 14th at 19.1 per.
Reeling their discipline and positioning back in on the defensive end would do a great solid to this team in its present construct.
Next up: Ranked second in the Western Conference, the frenetic Memphis Grizzlies come through the Footprint Center on Friday. They have the second-best efficiency differential, ninth-best offensive efficiency (116.6), and best defensive efficiency (100.2).